His birthday (and the fact that I talked about grief and stress on TV this morning and with clients today) has brought to my mind a lot
of thoughts on grief, death, mid-life crises, and more. Seeing as how I am not the first nor only person facing these universal issues, I thought it might be helpful to someone to write an article about these things.
In regards to grief, I am always interested by the way that people talk about grief as something that we “get over.” People always want to know if they “should be over it by now” or they want to know if they are “normal” since they are still thinking, dreaming, or struggling through something that they grieve.
First, let me offer my non-technical and non-official definition of grief…
I believe that grief is an unavoidable experience of any intelligent and self-aware creature that moves only one direction in time. As humans, we seem to move pretty regularly forward in time at the rate of about 1 second per second.
There is no way to dial backwards.
For this reason, I have an hourglass in my office.
(everything in my office has a story or therapeutic point connected to it, as I am sure you can imagine, but that is another blog that might be fun).
Clocks really create an illusion for us that time is cyclical and repeatable in nature. It is 3 o’clock now but not to worry, it will be 3 o’clock again tomorrow!
The truth is that it will be a totally different 3 o’clock. As Heraclitus allegedly said, “You can never step into the same river twice.”
Instead, the hourglass reminds us that as each small grain of sand drops from the top to the bottom, it is gone and can never be gotten back.
The truth of that is the root of grief, I think.
I might reference this again when I talk about Mid-life crises.
So, back to the definition of grieving. Grieving is the emotional effect of having an event (decision, relationship, etc.) behind us… in the past… and we are wishing something about it had been different.
Notice that one might even predict that things were not going to go well, and we might not be surprised that they did, but they did, and we are feeling the truth of that.
There are small grief (when your lunch partner ordered something you wish you had ordered instead of what you did) and there are massive grief (the death of a beloved family member or friend) and there are even transcendent or ideological grief (a trust broken, a faith doubted, or a cherished life-rule challenged… I also think that our feelings of injustice or of having been cheated are really strongly connected to grief.).
A personal, and I think common, example of transcendent grief is the grief that comes when we perceive a seriously lost potential, especially when we feel that someone is cheated out of an opportunity.
One of times I experienced a strong feeling of grief was when our family pet died a few years ago, on Christmas day. Bummer, I know.
However, here is the thought that really brought out the emotion in me: Montana (the dog’s name) had been adopted by our family about the time our first child was born and he had been with us through the infancy and toddlerhood years. I should say that he had suffered thought them; there is little harder on a dog than a toddler. Toddlers like to poke eyes, jump on backs and step on tails, all in fun, of course.
Montana had put up with all of that and was just embarking on that time which is fun for dogs – growing up with a kid to play with, pay attention to them, slip them food, etc. And then he died on Christmas day out jogging with me, hit by the only car we saw on the road that evening.
Though I was sad at his death, it was the injustice of it all, the sense of this dog being cheated out of his reward for putting up with the tough times, that triggered the grieving.
Now, when we imagine a person we loved dying, we must often multiply that emotion a thousand times… especially to the degree we have feelings of them (or us) being cheated of something.
My grandfather never met the great-grandson named after him.
A friend’s parents will not be at his graduation, wedding, etc.
My best friend is not here to build a tree-house with my kids – something he and I built dozens of.
How would we ever “get over it?”
Personally, I don’t think we do.
I think we just get used to it.
More to follow…